South Sudan’s leaders have amassed fortunes while waging a brutal civil conflict that killed tens of thousands of people, a non-governmental organization said Monday.

The “key catalyst” for the conflict – a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar that turned violent in December 2013 – “has heen competition for ... control over state assets and the country’s abundant natural resources,” said The Sentry, which investigates the financing of conflicts in Africa.

“The leaders of South Sudan’s warring parties manipulate and exploit ethnic divisions in order to drum up support for a conflict that serves the interests only of the top leaders of these two kleptocratic networks” in the oil-rich country, according to the report.

Kiir, Machar, their relatives and associates have invested heavily in South Sudanese and east African real estate and other industries, The Sentry said.

The families of Kiir and his brother-in-law "hold interests in almost two dozen companies operating in oil, mining, construction, gambling, banking, aviation, and government and military procurement,” according to the report.

Some top officials responsible for mass atrocities “have been involved in questionable business deals while others have apparently received large payments from corporations doing business in South Sudan,” the report said.

Kiir and Machar’s family members live luxuriously abroad, far from the suffering of their compatriots, The Sentry said.

Kiir's office was not immediately available for comment.

The South Sudanese conflict has displaced more than 2 million people, while millions more are food insecure, according to the UN.

The conflict has been characterized by widespread atrocities, including ethnic massacres and large-scale rape.

The warring sides formed a unity government in April, but fighting erupted again in July, prompting Machar to flee to neighbouring Sudan.

The Sentry was founded by actor George Clooney and human rights activist John Prendergast. It is affiliated with Enough Project, another advocacy group.

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